Volunteers’ ideas, energy, and ability to connect with others are crucial resources for nonprofit organizations to perform their role in society. Engaging volunteers is an essential part of the early stages of the life cycle of many nonprofits and also builds the capacity of nonprofits at any stage of the organization cycle.
Volunteers provide a critical connection between nonprofits and their communities. They bring needed skills, connections, insights, and resources. They also serve as valuable advocates and public relations ambassadors.
Nonprofits have an obligation to act as responsible stewards of the skills, energy, and time that volunteers bring to the organization. Nonprofits should create thoughtful structures and processes to manage volunteer time and abilities and direct volunteer energies to effectively advance the organization’s mission.
1. Nonprofits should assess the capacity of their organization to engage, supervise, and support volunteers with the necessary level of attention, priority, and resources before recruiting volunteers.
2. Nonprofits should develop a volunteer plan that states how volunteers advance the organization’s mission.
3. Nonprofits should allocate resources (including staff) to recruit, engage, supervise, recognize, and retain volunteers.
4. Nonprofits should put risk management procedures in place to assess, manage, or lessen potential risks to volunteers, the organization, and its clients, members, and participants that may result from the delivery of a volunteer-led program or service. This should include obtaining adequate levels of insurance for volunteers and the use of liability waivers where appropriate.
5. Board members should make an intentional distinction between their governance role as volunteer board members and any activities they conduct as program-based volunteers.
6. While volunteers and employees work closely together in many organizations, nonprofits must abide by the distinctions between the legally allowed activities of volunteers and employees:
- Employees of an organization may volunteer for the organization as long as the volunteer duties are outside of regular employee assignments, outside of normal working hours, predominantly for the employee’s benefit, and without any penalty to the employee for not volunteering.
- Financial and in-kind benefits to volunteers should be limited to reimbursement for business-related expenses, minor fringe benefits, and/or nominal fees for services. Volunteer stipends should not be tied to the amount of hours engaged in volunteer activities and must be recorded as taxable income where appropriate.
Recruitment and Screening
7. Before recruiting volunteers, organizations should develop a clear description of the scope of the work, necessary skills, expected time commitment, and the impact and benefits of the volunteer's service.
8. Where appropriate, nonprofits should seek to match volunteer opportunities to the potential volunteer’s needs and interests.
9. Nonprofit organizations must conduct background checks if the volunteer will be working directly with vulnerable people.
10. Volunteer recruitment should incorporate a broad range of internal and external strategies to reach out to diverse sources of volunteers.
Engagement and Supervision
11. Volunteers should be welcomed and treated as valued and integral members of the organization’s human resources.
12. Volunteers should be provided with an orientation appropriate to their role. Orientation programs should include a clear written position description, a manual addressing relevant organization policies, information on disciplinary practices, and other essential organization or position-related information.
13. Nonprofits should structure their volunteer program so that each volunteer has a direct connection with an identified supervisor and receives a level of support and supervision appropriate for their role.
14. Nonprofit organizations should have clearly articulated and documented accountability and discipline procedures for volunteers that address lack of performance or policy violations as well as grounds for termination when necessary.
15. Nonprofits should provide formal and informal opportunities to recognize the impact and value of volunteers in advancing the organization’s mission.
16. Volunteers should receive ongoing performance-related feedback and a formal performance evaluation at a level appropriate to their involvement in the organization. They also should have the opportunity to provide feedback to the organization.
17. The volunteer program should be evaluated periodically to assess the impact of the program, as well as the cost and benefits involved in recruiting, engaging, and supervising volunteers.
Note to Readers: Please be aware that certain words have particular meanings in this document.
- "Must" is used to describe practices required by stake or federal law, and is noted with a gavel symbol; the online version of the Principles and Practices will soon include direct web links to relevant federal and state statutes and reporting forms.
- "Should" is used to describe highly recommended practices.
- "Constituents" describes people with a stake in the success of the organization and may include members, neighbors, clients, volunteers, and contributors.